Understanding In-Office Teeth Whitening Services

As people age, their teeth tend to discolor and become more yellow than white. The vast majority of people -- 99.7 percent -- think it's important to have a good smile. This has led to the current teeth whitening trend. Although over-the-counter products may eventually get teeth a bit whiter, faster and more impressive results can be achieved through in-office teeth whitening services from a dentist.

Lights or Not?

Many teeth whitening systems used by dentists involve the use of some type of light as well as a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide. The lights are meant to improve the results of the whitening solution, but it isn't clear whether this is actually the case. Some of the newer systems that include a catalyst in their bleaching solution that's activated by the light may work better than non-light activated bleaching systems, but overall, a review article found that systems using lights didn't necessarily give better or faster results than those without. So if your dentist uses a system involving tooth bleaching without any special lights, this isn't necessarily a reason to go search for a new cosmetic dentist before your procedure.

Hydrogen Peroxide Concentration

The concentration of the active ingredient in teeth bleaching, hydrogen peroxide, varies anywhere from about 15 to 40 percent. Higher concentrations may work more quickly, but they also have more risk of causing damage or irritation if they come into contact with the gums or other soft tissue. They may also result in more tooth sensitivity.

Treatment Time

Treatment typically involves multiple steps. The dentist will clean your teeth, document the current shade of the teeth, use some method of isolating the teeth to be whitened from the gums and other soft tissue, and then apply the whitener. In some cases, a light is then used. After the appropriate time (which varies based on the whitening system), the dentist will check to see how white the teeth have become. Usually, there are two to three applications of the whitener in a session, making the total treatment time somewhere between 40 and 90 minutes. In some cases, additional whitening sessions at home may be recommended to increase the results or help maintain them for longer.

Potential Contraindications

Some people should avoid teeth whitening, such as those that have bad GERD, very sensitive teeth, tooth-colored fillings or restorations that are visible when you smile, pregnant women, and anyone with cavities or other damage to their teeth that still needs to be fixed. Stains caused by overexposure to fluoride, tetracycline antibiotics, or trauma to the tooth are less likely to be removed, even when taking advantage of the in-office teeth whitening services of a cosmetic dentist. A teeth whitening method called deep bleaching, which involves multiple sessions both at the dentist's office and at home, may be able to help with these stains in some cases, but is much more time consuming and expensive than regular in-office teeth whitening.

To learn more, contact a dentist like Scott W. Murphy, D.M.D., P.A.